We have improved our communities and our tenants think so too, with 86% now stating that their neighbourhood is a good place to live.
Throughout the borough we own a lot of green open space areas, almost enough for 45 rugby pitches. This year our Grounds Maintenance Team and, The Gellideg Foundation, cut the grass saving us just over £229,000 from our previous contract. We completed 38 small scale environmental improvements making a real difference. This includes a clean-up in Hornbeam Close, Gurnos involving Keep Wales Tidy, Tidy Towns and The Gurnos Community Group. We cleared around 5 tonnes of rubbish, opened the area up to prevent anti-social behaviour and used a chipper to prevent costs in tipping charges.
Two large clean ups were also completed; one in Goitre Lane/2nd Avenue and another in Bro Ffrwyd. Both areas had anti social behaviour issues including fly tipping. A large scale clearance was undertaken with post clean up monitoring put in place, this has had a positive effect with a reduction in anti-social behaviour and the area remaining tidy.
We also undertook a small programme of works to enclose 12 homes in Heol Llwyn Gollen, this has improved the look of the street and given tenants space in front of their homes which is just for them.
We agreed with the Planning Services at Merthyr County Borough Council that those people with open plan gardens could, with permission, enclose the space creating a normal fenced or walled garden. We set up an online portal for this and so far 5 tenants have applied to enclose and look after their front garden. This was our first fully digital self-serve scheme.
It’s not surprising that fly tipping remains a real problem in our borough and last year we received calls or identified over 876 incidents of fly tipping on our mapping system called Flymapper. This works out on average as nearly 17 incidents of fly tipping a week on our land. Last year we removed over 75 tonnes of rubbish that had been fly tipped.
We have established a stronger, more proactive stance of identifying perpetrators, we record and monitor incidents and have successfully pursued 5 people for the costs of removing fly tipped rubbish. 38 of the 89 incidents of were resolved after putting tape around the incidents and identifying the people who had illegal disposed of the rubbish.
We want to give tenants homes that look good, are safe and economical to run.
Keeping tenants safe Keeping people safe in their homes and keeping our employees who work in our homes safe, has always been a priority for us. Following the tragic events of Grenfell Tower we recognised that there is always more work to do and we have increased our focus on this important issue.
Working with tenants of St Tydfil’s Court (our only high rise block) and in the neighbouring flats in Caedraw, we established our Resident’s Fire Safety Committee. They’ve looked at a mix of general fire safety practice, lessons learned from incidents in the Borough and post-Grenfell report findings. This joint working has helped us to improve the safety from fire. We reviewed fire safety in every block of flats and published on-line every single fire risk assessment. We also wrote a detailed letter to every household living in a block of flats where a fire risk assessment is carried out.
Working with South Wales Fire and Rescue Service we reinforced our controlled evacuation procedure in high rise flats. In October we, with South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, organised an evacuation exercise in St Tydfil’s Court for the residents of the block and the Resident’s Fire Safety Committee to see how an evacuation would happen. It tested operational fire fighting and included a rescue of simulated casualties from the top floor. This exercise was a full scale event with alarms, closure of the roads and attendance by multiple fire crews from surrounding stations.
“I live on the 11th floor and was chosen as the person to be rescued in the evacuation exercise. When the firemen came in, they were all in their uniform (with masks), they checked every room and heard me in the living room. They came and got me and led me down to the 9th floor. At the time I had a terrible chest infection, by the time I got to the 9th floor I was breathless. The feelings I had after were, if it were a genuine rescue, I would not have been afraid. The firemen were very professional and extremely re-assuring – I was completely and utterly safe.
Over recent years, St Tydfil’s Court has had a number of improvement works, when the plans for these works were discussed – fire safety was amongst the priority including cladding, fire doors throughout and new lifts.
As residents we know that all safety precautions were considered, MVH and the Fire Service come to re-evaluate the procedures and have meetings with the residents and we have formed a Residents Fire Safety Committee, we know that we are in safe hands”
Diana Lyons, Tenant.
As a response to the greater focus on safety, our Tenant Performance Improvement Forum developed into the Tenant Safety Forum with a specific function of scrutinising our health and safety practices. Several tenant and leaseholder forum members have worked towards achieving Level 2 Health and Safety qualifications. In August we achieved the certificate for OHSAS18001, this is an external assurance of our health and safety performance and practices.
We have continued to work very hard with our Health and Safety Committee that looks at employee safety and includes members from Trade Unions and other employees. Our positive culture on safety in the workplace has continued with early intervention and prevention being the goal.
As part of increase focus on safety we created a specific Property Compliance Team at MVH bringing together the responsibility for electric, gas, legionella and asbestos.
We have landlord gas certificates on 100% of our properties and received substantial assurance from our internal audit service (Barcud Shared Services) in October 2017, both showing we have efficient gas procedures in place.
The safe management of asbestos in homes remains a priority and last year we reduced the use of external contractors and created an in-house asbestos removal team. We revised our asbestos procedures; this has led to cost savings and importantly, less disruption for tenants.
As part of our planned maintenance works we have carried out the following works:
We have changed the way in which we approach improvement works and have increased the number of teams from 1 to 3 teams, allowing us to be more proactive, flexible and efficient –ultimately resulting in better services for tenants and better maintained and re-furbished homes.
We now have a specialist team working on re-rendering the outside of homes, and they are followed by our painting teams, the effect of this programme can be best seen in the Upper Gurnos where a further 27 homes were refurbished.
New Office As the lease on our office in Martin Evans House was due to expire in 2019 we decided that for the same cost per year we could build our own office. As part of the regeneration of Gellideg we decided to build our office in the heart of this community on Lansbury Road. We developed a vision for Gellideg about 3 years ago and new head office was one of the final pieces of the jigsaw.
The Gellideg Foundation had also received planning permission and raised funding to build a new office on the corner of Lansbury Road. Together this would be an investment of nearly £8m in this community.
Removing the old and unloved blocks of flats was the start and the time lapse shows the transformation and change over the last year. We finally moved in during May 2018 and for the first time ever all nearly all our employees work from one location. There has been a real buzz about the new offices and the new working practices we are developing and we think tenants will notice the difference.
Renting commercial units As well as renting homes, we have a number of commercial units. One of the ways we measure well being in our communities is that major national shops want to rent space and serve our communities. We have been please that along with great local suppliers some of the biggest commercial organisations have continued to rent commercial space form us in our estate shops including Greggs, Mccolls, Tesco One Shop.
Our commercial shops include important local services like hairdressers, chip shops and local convenience stores and we have been proud that one of the commercial success stories, EC Cycles, has grown in strength in one of our shops.
Our Homes We have continued to invest in our homes, this has had a positive effect with an 86% of homes being accepted on first offer – this is an improvement from last year. Last year we let 290 homes.
It is without a doubt, that times are getting much harder for community organisations and groups - we are really proud to have spent over £12million in Merthyr Tydfil and over £4million in Wales.
During the year we spent £195,000 with social enterprises.
Support Community facilities are very expensive resources and we now have a more targeted approach to those areas where we have existing facilities and toward communities where we have substantial number of tenants:
Galon Uchaf Community Centre We have continued to support Galon Uchaf as the community reinvigorates the use of the community centre. To reduce the risk and allow the community to manage the use, we have looked after, free of charge, the repair and compliance services (i.e. electrical and safety repairs) for the community.
Trelewis Community Centre
It’s been a few years since we took over the running of Trelewis Community Centre, to make sure it wasn’t lost for the community and this year we have continued our investment. We’ve employed a Project Officer to run the centre and work with the community and local groups to increase usage and we continued to carry out further repair works to the building including the drainage, new doors and cleaning the roof.
The centre continued to host a number of activities during the year including taekwondo, a football and youth club, a number of table-top sales and children’s parties. It was also used for a variety of drop-in sessions including an employment related support surgery run by Communities for Work and an animal welfare event run by the Dogs Trust to provide information about how to properly care for dogs, microchipping, neutering, diet & exercise.
Chestnut Way and Forsythia Youth As Welsh Government reduced the amount of funding available for 3Gs, we helped by taking over the building and associated costs of all the equipment at Forsythia Youth Project. This meant the young people could enjoy themselves in a safe environment and the youth workers could spend time with the young people rather than worrying about the building maintenance. We developed, with the youth club, plans to relocate them to Chestnut Way and work is now nearing completion for a fresh start for the youth club in much larger and better premises in the centre of Gurnos.
One of the project officers said “Merthyr Valleys Homes have always supported the Youth Provision based on the Gurnos and most recently supported us with a new Youth Centre at the Chestnut Way building. There was a lot of work that needed to be carried out in order for our young people to move in and I can say it would not have been possible without the support given from MVH.
We are grateful to all involved from MVH who helped us, without all of these people we would not have the fantastic centre that we have now.
We hope that with this support and our new centre we will continue to deliver a crucial service to the Young People of the Gurnos & Galon Uchaf.
Special thanks to Merthyr Valleys Homes from all the Young People at the 3Gs Youth Project!”
We also worked with 3Gs to reduce their risk and cost and agreed to take back the lease and all the repairs of the Chestnut Way premises and this will now be heart of the new community zone for Merthyr Tydfil.
Gellideg Foundation We donated £49,500 to the Gellideg Foundation Group as a final contribution to their well-being centre which is due to open in the autumn.
Although we have focussed on these areas – they are not the only community groups have helped. We have awarded over £30,000 to local groups through our Grant and Sponsorship Panel which includes Twyn Action Group (TAG) – more of which you can read in the Responsibilities section (link to this info). We have also supported the Ynysfach Wellbeing Group to prioritise tasks and expenditure of grant funding.
Opportunities in MVH Despite us being a relatively small housing organisation, we are a major employer within the borough and work hard to ensure we create and offer as many opportunities as possible. During the year we have: • Created an opportunity for an apprentice plumber • Appointed our first female operative as an apprentice bricklayer • Appointed 3 final year apprentices into permanent positions • Created a commercial works experience opportunity for an existing year 2 apprentice • Implemented a new multi-skilling system with 9 new multi-skilled positions created • Have a volunteer position within the Caretaking Team – the previous volunteer went on to find a permanent job with Merthyr College. • 4 employees completed CIH Level 4 award in Housing Practice and 1 achieved her Post Graduate Certificate in Housing Studies
We provide a huge array of support to people living in our homes and communities to help make them feel valued and safe. We also try to intervene early where we can see signs of things going wrong for people in their homes or their tenancies.
Tenancy Management and advice Some people find it easy to manage a home, others don’t. Personal circumstances can change very quickly and sometimes people who didn’t struggle find it hard to manage their tenancy. We completed over 1,500 tenancy visits during the course of the year to try to help customers resolve a range of issues from untidy gardens and low level antisocial behaviour and nuisance right through to making sure that people were getting the right help from the right services, for example, where they are vulnerable. Taking a targeted approach means we can see more people and resolve issues before they become too serious and we have to take legal action. We resolved 90% of tenancy breaches in an informal way.
Community Living Schemes
During the year we re-branded our Sheltered Schemes as Community Living Schemes. This was to move away from them being viewed as stereotypical over 50’s assisted living and to re-align with a more positive approach to supported living - focusing on improving health, wellbeing and promote the community ethos which includes a sense of belonging, a safe, secure supportive environment and equal access to services which allow a good quality of life.
In March 2018, over 50 tenants attended a community wellbeing event in the Football Club in Merthyr which promoted the importance of health and wellbeing and the services to help tenants in achieving positive mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing. We held a total of 94 events in the 6 different Community Living Schemes – this included the regular bingo, knit & natter groups, but also men self-help groups, free home eye tests and promoting Dementia Awareness week. All events support and re-enforce the Community Living ethos, for example, reducing isolation and loneliness and improving health and wellbeing. We have completed lots of improvement works to the schemes this includes painting and putting new furniture in the communal halls of Cae’r Wern and Rhydfach, re-surfacing some pathways and new automatic doors with fob entry to allow easier access. We also put 9 new scooter bays in Rhydfach which prevents the health and safety risk of tenants storing them in their homes.
RISE Project We have completed 78 RISE visits during the year and met with tenants who said they could do with some help and advice from us. Out of those conversations we’ve made over 200 referrals for specialist advice and services which tailored to need. This includes referrals into employment and volunteering schemes, money advice, energy efficiency and learning.
Money advice and support Weekly advice surgeries in our communities on welfare reform and income management have been a huge success. This positive and supporting work has resulted in us working with nearly 400 households and helped them achieve an average income increase of £19.67 per week. One of our team started training to become a qualified debt advisor; this will allow us to give more detailed and specialist debt advice. We know debt is a real issue for communities.
We also visited our Community Living Schemes and advised 21 residents. On average we helped increase their income by £115 per week,a total of £9,159 in back dated payments.
It is also important that rent is paid in full by everyone and last year we recovered over £113,000 in current and former tenant arrears.
Universal Credit The roll out of Universal Credit was delayed in Merthyr Tydfil but we remain prepared and ready to support our tenants when it starts. We have worked with other housing organisations we have undertaken training and developed a strategic partnership with the Council on this critical issue for the community
Rental Exchange During the year we introduced Rental Exchange, this allows MVH tenants to improve their credit rating by simply paying their rent on time each month. The rent payments then create an online proof of identity which helps build a positive credit history an access mainstream credit rather than doorstep or high rate lenders for goods and services.
Anti-social behaviour (ASB) It’s clear that early intervention is working, and as a result we have reduced the amount of legal assistance that we require. We’ve continued to invest and use noise monitoring equipment and CCTV (additional camera) – this use of equipment has had a positive impact.
We have seen a reduction in the number of reported incidents of ASB. The majority of cases are minor; however, we have had 6 injunctions, one of which was a large case.
We continue to work in partnership with key organisations e.g. South Wales Police, Victim Support and are members of the local community partnership groups ASBCC/MARAC to ensure that our tenants are fully supported.
We promoted Hate Crime Awareness week with information stands in reception.
The Board and Democratic Body joint meeting in October agreed to give some priority to finding a housing solution for young people.
We continue to support the award winning Taf Fechan Co-op in Gellideg a housing offer for young people who work.
We lobbied throughout the year for the ending of local housing allowance in social housing and thanks, in no small part, to the work of local MP Gerald Jones the UK Government dropped the proposal to reduce the housing benefit to social tenants. For us this was great news and for young people we intend to support is will be more important.
We continued with our plans to purchased two modular homes to trial as a low cost housing option. These will be let during 2018
As part of a new build development in Treharris, we demolished 2 bungalows and rebuilt a new, fully adapted home for a family which was designed to meet their very particular needs plus 2 one bedroomed flats.
The original properties were completely unsuitable for the families who were there, with no adaptations and no outdoor space which could support independent living.
There are now more homes to meet more need on the same ground.